The Book That Made Me: Sophy Henn
Published on: 21 August 2019 Author: Sophy Henn
What's the childhood book that made you who you are today?
Author-illustrator Sophy Henn says Judy Blume's classic book prepared her for the changes of those self-conscious teenage years – and made her feel like everything would be OK in the end.
Left: Sophy Henn as a young girl; right: the cover of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Trying to come up with just one book has proved almost impossible as I am undoubtedly made from many books. The Cops and Robbers silliness, Milly-Molly-Mandy’s industry (and love of ‘lid potatoes’), I Capture the Castle’s romanticism… So many different books have sent me this way and that.
But if I had to pick just one book that made me, or, rather, made me more comfortable about who I was, it would be Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
This book took me seriously
It probably won’t be surprising to say that I have always loved books, those handy portals to who knows where, that fit into your bag and can be delved into whenever you want. And as a shy, uncool only child, I would happily curl up and escape whenever the opportunity arose. I loved imagining I was in the Secret Seven and longed to stumble across a stolen race horse or be poolside at one of the Wakefield twins' infamous Sweet Valley High parties, where everyone was tanned and life was just so exciting!
But when I read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, it wasn’t so much about escaping my reality as seeing it reflected back at me, and I cannot tell you what an utter relief that was. Now I should point out that it is not at all the religious aspect of this book that spoke to me (I did not grow up in a religious household), but the fact that the book sounded like me, took my hopes and dreams and fears as seriously as I did.
It was a revelation.
As I hurtled reluctantly towards my teens, a creeping sense of self-awareness lurked at every turn; wondering how some people just seemed to know "what was what" while I lived in fear of doing/saying/wearing the wrong thing...
I had no older siblings to cross-check these issues with and parents obviously know nothing at this stage – how could they?! It felt like a lonely and perilous time but with this undercurrent of excitement, fizzing away. So, not at all confusing then!
Reassurance that I was not alone
Judy Blume captured the concerns of a 11-ish year old girl (pre-mobile phones and social media) perfectly, never over or understating it. The crippling self awareness, moments of wishing the floor would open up and you could just disappear, the fear AND the thrill of the new. There’s just so much to deal with ALL THE TIME.
As an adult, it can be easy to forget the agonies of the first bra, first period, new friends and first crush, brushing away the intense emotions that can accompany them. But Judy deals with them with such care, never sugar coating those moments or bringing her adult viewpoint to the fore, but instead remembering all the little things that matter so much when you are that age.
To see my concerns reflected back at me, in an actual book, that other people had also read made me feel so reassured. I wasn’t alone! Other people had the same worries as me! And from this reassurance came a sense of empowerment; maybe I wasn’t such an oddball/loser/freak? If other people thought the same way I did then I couldn’t be, surely?
I truly think my confidence took something of a U-turn after reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I won’t claim it was a straight-up soar, more of a gentle incline – and heaven knows we all have bumps along the way! But Judy Blume gave me that bit of calm that I was probably OK and maybe everything else would be OK too. More or less!
And with those feelings, came the confidence to be a bit more "me". So I guess this book didn’t make me so much as gave me permission to be me.
Respecting my readers, just like Judy Blume
I came to writing children’s books after I became a mum and it’s fair to say that all my books come from that place of "mumming"! I want to comfort, reassure and empower the reader, make them realise they are not alone with their hopes and fears, maybe even defuse those new and confusing feelings with a bit of humour, though never dismissing them.
I often think of how seriously Judy Blume took my ten-year-old worries and the care she employed when writing about them, and I do my very best to respect my readers in the same way.
And that is how Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret made me… a more ME me, a more empathetic writer, a happier ten-year-old and a lifelong Judy Blume fan.